Tuesday, May 13, 2008
As a child, we were allowed to select our birthday cake every year from The Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book. This has become a classic over the years and a staple in many kitchens. Most of my friends had birthday cakes made from the more than 100 cakes in this book. My sisters and I enjoy reminiscing over what cake we chose each year. I remember the piano, with its keys made from white chocolate and licorice, a sweet shop, and a log cabin with its roof made of Flake chocolates. Other cakes, chosen by my sisters, included the ballerina figurines on a rose-pink cake, the swimming pool filled with green jelly, the farm animals cake, the choo-choo train and the candy castle made with upside-down ice-cream cones iced with meringue icing. It was an exciting event to choose your cake each year, with the birthday recipient spending weeks poring over the pages before making the final momentous decision. We never gave a thought to how difficult or time-consuming the cakes were to make and mum faithfully made them each year. Even though one of my sisters and I have birthdays only two days apart, we always got our own cake each year.
My first mother's day present, which I received when my son was just nine days old, was the updated version of this book, now called The Australian Women's Weekly Kids' Party Cakes. I confess that I prefer the older version. Although the updated book has many new and exciting cakes, some of the old favourites have been banished (many of the cakes I chose, such as the piano and the sweet shop, have disappeared) and some have been updated for modern tastes or made more elaborate. For example, the number 10 cake in the old version was a lovely lamington cake, topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate. In the new book, it's become the "soda and pizza cake" and is nowhere near as attractive or inspiring to make.
But there's still plenty of options and it's a fun challenge each year to select a cake. As my son has just turned two, I'm doing the selecting for him but soon he'll be old enough to choose his own. I now have new respect for mum producing these cakes each year, as quite a bit of thought and planning has to go into them. You need to make sure you have the right-sized tins and all the ingredients, which often include specific lollies that aren't always readily available. Luckily I have some good old-fashioned lolly shops nearby and they nearly always come to the rescue with the correct lollies, even if it means producing items I've never heard of.
Last year, we had the bright-green express train and this year I made the giraffe cake. Both seemed difficult when I read through the detailed instructions but actually proved to be reasonably easy to make. The book recommends that you use packets of buttercake mix but also provides a buttercake recipe. Being a packet cake mix snob, I choose to make my own cake and it is extremely easy and very little extra work. The fun is in the tinting of the buttercream icing and the decorating.
I thoroughly enjoyed the birthday cake tradition as a child and I love it even more now that I'm continuing it for my own.